Every veteran has been there. That exciting, scary, confusing, thrilling moment when you decide to take off the uniform and make the transition into civilian life. A time filled with big choices, big expectations, and very big questions about the future.

Veterans in this phase of their career transition often come to us -- with equal parts hope and skepticism -- trying to decide whether a career in technology is right for them. And with that decision comes a lot of questions.

We've had thousands of conversations helping veterans navigate these challenging questions, and figured it was about time to share what we've learned with the world. So if you're a veteran who's interested in breaking into tech, but you're not sure where to start, you've come to the right place.

Breaking into tech

Exploring new opportunities in tech can maximize the military skills you already have and lay a foundation for a lifelong career. Recently, it’s become common to say that “every company is a technology company,” which means that working in tech can give you access to just about every sector, from healthcare to startups and banking, offering multiple paths to a thriving post-military career. 

Stepping into the world of technology is a big decision that requires a commitment to refining your skills and adapting to a fast-paced, rapidly changing environment. Just like joining the military and committing to a position of service, exploring the tech industry is also a serious decision that requires an investment in yourself. 

The good news is veterans are uniquely equipped to take their experiences and skills in the military and transition into a tech career. Their combination of hard and soft skills hold incredible value in the civilian workplace. Here are just some of the military skills that serve tech careers: 

Think back to a typical day in the military. The ability to focus under pressure and handle stress is also necessary for the technology field and one you've probably mastered in the military. And frankly, these skills are much harder to traditionally “train” and make veterans that much more valuable in the tech workforce.

Questions to ask yourself

Upskilling takes practice to connect the dots between the skills you already have and the new positions you want to explore. If you're not sure how your own military experiences can adapt to a tech career, ask yourself some of the following questions:

  1. What are some of the strongest skills I learned in the military?
  2. What part of my military role did I enjoy the most?
  3. What would my former military colleagues say about my work?
  4. What types of jobs am I the most attracted to?
  5. Is there anyone in my existing network already connected to the tech industry?

Practical steps to take before leaving the military

There's no need to wait until you leave the military before exploring your tech career options and readying yourself for a transition. The best time is pretty much always right now, since it gives you more insight, better preparation, and a bigger window to find the opportunities that are a perfect fit for you.

  1. Research technology jobs to get a feel for what positions are available and how your current skills relate.
  2. Refresh your resume and focus on highlighting the skills you have that are most relevant to the jobs you're interested in exploring. This is also the time to add in details that might be attractive to companies you've researched. For example, does your dream company value a teamwork work culture? Draw upon those experiences from the military and add them to your resume.
  3. Take a deeper dive into researching technology companies on sites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, The Muse, and business blogs. Get a feel for the company culture, salary expectations, and what the company is known for. 
  4. Ask for informational interviews from companies, friends, or acquaintances to warm up your connections, grow your network, and learn more about the industry.
  5. Make a five-minute video introducing yourself to potential employers. This technique can stand out to companies drowning in resumes and immediately get a sense of your personality.

Understanding your worth

Veterans may discover the real issue with transitioning into civilian life isn't necessarily about identifying job prospects. Instead, it’s often a struggle with understanding their worth and how military their skills translate beyond the uniform.

"It's easy to think military skills are not transferable to the tech world or any career track, but that is not the case. You have built a strong sense of leadership, an ability to quickly and creatively solve problems, fall down and get back up and do it better, but relationships, adapt to any environment, which is key for tech. There is constant change, and while some don't respond well to it, veterans see what it takes and what needs to be done to successfully get to the other side." - Jeffrey Vaccari, Talent Strategist at Shift

Skills translation is an effective way to help identify your existing strengths with an available position or career path. Make a list of your skills, accomplishments, and work experiences to help identify your skills. 

Studying job descriptions can also help piece together your skills. Check off all the required skills that you already have and see how you can highlight those areas in your resume or cover letter. The process helps build confidence in your worth, and show potential employers how your experiences measure up to the position. 

Conducting interviews with superiors 

Your military superiors have deep insights into the value you brought to your uniformed role. Ask your superiors for an exit interview, or a meeting, to identify what hard and soft skills you’re taking with you into civilian life. Use these interview questions to get started:

  1. What would you say are my most valuable skills in this role?
  2. Can you give an example of where I exceeded your expectations?
  3. What areas do you see the most improvement in my work?
  4. Where would you suggest I improve in my skills or transition into my next role?

Receiving constructive feedback is just as important as their glowing reviews. The more you can look at your weaknesses and strengths, the easier it will be to identify what skills to highlight with future employers.

Questions to ask yourself 

Once you've talked with your supervisor about your skills and role, sit down to explore your own thoughts about your value as a veteran. Grab a pen and paper or open a Word Doc and ask yourself the following:

  1. What areas did I thrive in as a veteran? (These can include hard skills like coding or soft skills like diffusing tense issues between team members)
  2. What types of skills did I use the most in my day-to-day role in the military?
  3. Where do I need improvement in my skill set?
  4. What did I love doing in my military job?
  5. What were some of the proudest moments I experienced in the military? 

The more you can translate your skills and worth to an employer, the easier it is to build momentum and see results.

“If you can have an educated conversation about the industry and company you are excited about, you will stand out among applicants. Find support from mentors and veteran organizations that educate you on possible paths to achieving your career goals, help develop your resume, and develop yourself as an outstanding candidate." Kate Moon, Talent Strategy Leader at Shift

Exploring your options

Veterans are uniquely suited for a variety of career tracks that maximize their work ethic, ability to perform under pressure, and the hard and soft skills learned in the military.

If you're unsure where to begin, here are some of the hottest, most-hired-for tech jobs where we’ve seen our veterans thrive: 

Practical advice from those who’ve walked the walk

If you need help understanding what your new career options are as a veteran, our Expert Talks series offers insights from your fellow veterans. Here are some of our must-watch videos to start exploring:

Coffee chats 

One-on-one feedback goes a long way when looking for support in your transition. You can rapidly broaden your connections and network by lining up coffee chats or Zoom calls with people in your industry. Talk to friends, acquaintances, and ask to be connected with anyone they know in the tech field. The warmer the connection, the better. 

If you feel like your network is lacking, try Meetups in your areas geared towards veterans and career seekers. Suddenly your network doesn’t feel so small when you have a support system of fellow veterans in your civilian life. Who better to offer insights and empathize with your journey than someone who has walked that path before?

Upgrading your missing skills

Whether you have some tech experience from the military or are starting from scratch, bootcamps can build tech skills and establish industry connections. Tech bootcamps offer short-term, hands-on, intensive training to get you up running with the latest tech skills. Although their investment can sometimes prove pricey, they're far less expensive than a traditional college education. 

You’re also more likely to walk away with new connections. Tech companies often partner with bootcamps and recruit their members directly.

If you’re hoping to complete your undergrad, pursue higher education, or explore training and bootcamp programs, your GI Bill may help alleviate the financial burden. More bootcamps are also accepting the GI Bill or income share agreements (ISA). 

Here’s how it works: You agree to borrow money from a tech bootcamp or learning program to fund your education, and in exchange, you pay a percentage of your salary after graduation for a set period. As your income increases, so does your payment. Instead of taking out traditional loans, your fees are directly tied to your income and are more predictable to manage. 

As you’re getting started, keep in mind you don't need to hit every bullet point on a job description. Companies often overreach with a list of everything they could possibly want for a position to find a range of candidates. Companies are generally eager to consider the right person who can show their value and connect their highly relevant experiences to the position. 

Companies generally expect candidates to go through a learning curve and frequently provide some kind of training, shadowing program, or grace period to get up and running. Obviously, you can't get a coding job without coding experience, but you can still learn some skills directly on the job.

“Apply for a role if you think you align with the majority of the requirements (~80%). The majority of job postings overreach, like in negotiations, are hoping to get someone close to stated requirements. This being said, if you really don't align that well and want to, there are SO many resources available now (and a lot are for free) that allow you to tap into hard skills that you may not have. If it is an area you are interested in learning more about, tap into some of these courses and see if it's something you would be interested in pursuing? Also, don't underestimate the experience or connections interning, volunteering, or freelancing in a particular area can provide. This is how a LOT of people land full time gigs-getting out there and getting their hands dirty. You may find a path that you never knew you might take?" Kristy McHugh, Talent Strategist at Shift

Leveraging your veteran status

It can feel overwhelming to step out of the military and compete with civilians who’ve spent years building their careers, in technology and beyond.

The good news? Veterans enjoy plenty of perks that non-vets simply don't have. Your veteran status can be a secret weapon if you know how to leverage it.

To start, you can connect with other veterans in your industry on Shift Mentors. While civilians are stuck piecing together a brand new industry network with cold emails and awkward meetups, this platform gives veterans a built-in support system of military members who’ve been through your journey, broken into tech, and are ready and willing xto pay it forward to the next wave of veterans.

Then, of course, you have the GI Bill. And while most veterans know that it can be applied to traditional education -- like getting a university degree -- the savviest servicemembers know that it can be applied in non-traditional ways to build skills that will help you thrive in the world of tech:

At Shift, we’ve partnered some of the world’s best bootcamps and educational partners, who are holding space in their programs just for veterans. If you’re looking to quickly build tech skills that will grow your career, be sure to explore our curated list of courses here.

Building a plan

We outlined several ways for breaking into tech to ensure your transition is a successful one. However, the most important takeaway is the same no matter what method you use: Focus on building a plan. 

Just like a gym habit, shifting from the military to a civilian career is a significant transformation that requires a plan and goals. The investment in yourself also doesn't need to be an expensive one. Focus on wisely using your time, warming up your connections, and leveraging free resources available to you, whether on YouTube or online courses and communities. When you learn how to bridge the gap between your military skills and civilian careers, you can upskill your way to success.

Ready to get started? Visit our courses page or check out more content here.

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